What does it mean to work with the dead? For Banarasi Shyamlal Chouttle, 64, who spent 40 years of surgically opening dead bodies, the experience has been both traumatic and eye opening. Chouttle, who works at the mortuary department of the Civic Hospital in Thane, was recently felicitated by mayor Meenakshi Shinde for assisting doctors with conducting post-mortems on over 40,000 bodies. Having retired in 2014, Chouttle continues to offer his services to the hospital when required.
Banarasi Shyamlal Chouttle with his family
Hailing from Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, Chouttle shifted to Mumbai in July, 1973, and joined the Thane hospital as ward boy for a salary of Rs 175. Two years later, he was shifted to the mortuary department. His father and grandfather worked in the same hospital.
As part of his job, Chouttle was expected to open up dead bodies before the doctors would conduct a post-mortem examination. "The bodies would come from all over Thane," he says. He would work on close to 700 bodies a month.
Chouttle recalls, "Since the stench emanating from the bodies was nauseating, we would be allowed to take a swig of alcohol before opening the body. Performing autopsies on children was the toughest. It affected my mind."
In the year 1990, Chouttle decided to quit relying on alcohol to carry out the task. "I didn't want to use it as a crutch," he says. However, the nightmares associated with his job continued. "Sometimes, I'd break into a sweat in the middle of the night.
Fortunately, my wife, who works at the same hospital as housekeeper, was supportive. Talking to her about my troubles helped."
Chouttle's ID card
Dealing with mass deaths
Chouttle remembers his most challenging experience when bodies of 32 passengers travelling on a Thane Municipal Transport (TMT) bus, which fell off Chena Bridge on Ghodbunder Road in 2006, arrived at the hospital. "We were called by the officials urgently and asked to work day and night to hand over the bodies to the families," he says.
Last year, two years into his retirement, doctors from the hospital, reached out to him, following the gruesome murder of 14 members of a family by Hasnain Warerkar from Kasarvadavli. "When I reached the hospital, I learned that a man had killed his entire family and then committed suicide. It was depressing."
Chouttle's wife Rajvati says. "Since I work in the same hospital, I knew of the challenges the job threw at him. Our children would often visit us so they too were used to the sigh of dead bodies."
Despite the gut-wrenching experiences, Chouttle says he never considered quitting. "I couldn't give up on my job. After all, it was my bread and butter," he says.
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